Player, Choose Your Ungulate: Them’s Fightin’ Herds
Them’s Fightin Words
Indiegogo ending 10/21/15
[Before I get too deep in the weeds, I should point out, top of the page, that this game is on Steam Greenlight, where much more game-savvy reviewers will take it apart for your reading pleasure…]
The story is almost a legend now: back in, oh, 2011 or so, the Mane6 team began the slow net.release of the free-to-play, totally fan-made, fighting game based on the My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic franchise. Hasbro had been amazingly chill toward fan remixes (and still is, compared to the litigious 90s when the publishers of Dungeons and Dragons regularly sued fan websites). When a company is generous with their intellectual property, it’s hard to know where the line is, so from 2011-2013 their game, Fighting is Magic looked like it might actually be a thing–until, late in the game, Hasbro dropped the “Cease and Desist” bomb.
Which really should have been the end of their story–except, like a fairy godmother with huge eyes and purple hair, Lauren Faust, creator of MLP:FIM, signed on as Mane6’s character developer, building a new world and backstory that’s similar-yet-different enough from Equestria, an exciting story, and one that takes the project out of copyright limbo.
And THAT could have been the entire story, but in a cool inter-project collaboration, tied the relaunch of the new and rebranded game, Them’s Fightin Herds, with the success of a new fighting game engine by Lab Zero Games. TFH became a stretch goal for Lab Zero, and Lab Zero became the engine behind the new game.
Which brings us to 2015, where Them’s Fighting Herds, as I write, is at 40% of their challenging $436,000 goal, and the long-awaited Faustian fighting game looks like it’s on a track to become a reality. And it looks like a strong product, somehow blending the bang-pow of a traditional 2D fighter with an original plot that’s actually pretty sweet, a reason for good-hearted creatures to kick the cud out of each other. All that and a dreamy, sketchy background style.
In the land of Fœnum, ungulates—four-legged, hoofed herbivores—are the dominant species. They’ve spread across the world, the Deers of Rein populating the north, angry angry bovines in the great plains, alpacas in the mountains, goats in the stretch goals. It’s their world, we’re just grazing in it.
But that wasn’t always the case–in the Mythical Before, there were carnivores, but they’d been locked behind a wall of magic, now only nightmares, children’s stories…
And now, boss monsters. Because that wall is breaking, and a portal between the carnivore’s prison is opening up. Only with the power of a magical key can the predators be locked away again, and only one critter is brave and strong and skilled enough to face the predator’s leader and lock the portal up for another few millenia. And they’ll have to beat each other into unconsciousness to find out who’ll be the Key Keeper.
I’m not really strong enough on this genre to dig into the mechanics of the game itself, but they go into detail right at the top of the TFH project page. Each character has their own forms of magic, there’s a few different ways to start a match, physics changes subtly during a combo to gently discourage infinite loops of attacks. It sounds like Twilight—ahem, Oleander—transforms as she draws more forbidden knowledge from the Unicornomicon, so characters seem to evolve over the course of a challenge, as well. More information needed there!
One fun aspect of the game is the “Lobby” area–outside of the fight screen, the game changes into an overhead view with a strong JRPG vibe. It’s a medium that lets players explore the world and interact as their favorite characters, and provide a context for their feuds. In the lobby, two characters fighting are represented as a Warner Bros-style swirl of dirt and hooves, and the icons of individuals watching the game stand around the fight in “spectator mode.” Chats and whispers are available as dropdowns. It looks like there’s even a few minigames, like a snowball fight. Right now the only lobby video is set in the icy world of Rein, so my first question would be, “how big is the lobby?” Will we see Arizona’s home town, or the clouds amongst which the dragon character flies? Unknown at this time. But the lobby gives the game a lot of MMO functionality, and the ability to dress your character up with a snazzy bachelor mustache or a favorite hat. And the lobby gives a sense of immersion and community not often found in a 2D fighter. Useful, since the backstory of this one is fundamentally about community.
There’s a great post on the Dev Blog about the game’s music, too–a dynamic music system in which character motifs shift into the main music as the characters fight it out. In a pretty Parisian setting, the music is piano-driven, but as Arizona dominates the fight, the same musical theme shifts into a heavy country guitar. As the reindeer Velvet takes command of the fight, the flavor of the music shifts to icy chimes and bells. Nobody’s bothering to press the attack? A bit of walking bass and a jauntier theme variant. This isn’t unique, but it’s fascinating to see the complicated web of options and transitions that underlay this bit of background noise.
No, it’s not My Little Pony. The six characters at start aren’t the Mane Six of MLP:FIM, but you can see traces of them. The unicorn character teleports all over the place and has a book, but it’s an eeevil book now, and she summons up a demonic horror to watch her back. Instead of Fluttershy’s bunny minions, Pom the Sheep has a flock of eager sheepdog puppies to “help” her out. And donors who sign up at the “Add me to the game” level can get their own character palette and lobby sprite, but it’s not going to be an Alicorn, and that cutie mark will have to be taken off, sorry. They can do that with lasers now, I hear it’s painless.
From a kickstarter perspective, two words spring to mind—professional, and complex. Not surprising, with a producer like Faust putting her name on it as the project creator. Here, check out one of the cleanest, and yet most difficult, infographics I’ve seen. It’s, wow, everything. And it shows how complex the rewards are for this game. The breakdown of the costs is very sharp and clean. I like the decimals. They may or may not be real, but there’s the strong suggestion of “we’ve done our homework,” and in crowdfunding, if a good product is king, image and trust are queen.
In so many ways, this is the culmination of a major story within the fandom. It’s epic. There was this part, see, where an angel swooped in to save everyone. The little guy vs. the dark overlord corporation. Creativity triumphing over Big Business. So many cute characters. This is the kind of creativity the internet, at its absolute best, can help bring together, and the campaign, the developer’s blog, and video stream, all worth a look!